Britten: String Quartet in F; String Quartet in D; String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartet in F; String Quartet in D; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Sorrel Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9664
Britten’s quartets are like steps on the journey of a life, and as the end of that trail itself becomes history – the Third Quartet already has 20th-century classic status – so our interest turns to earlier milestones such as the D major Quartet of 1931.

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Released in 1975 with the composer’s apologies for its madrigalian counterpoint, it’s adventurous in scope, and close in motivic coherence to the Op. 1 Sinfonietta. Motivic writing does not, in this piece, add up to the kind of sonata-form unity that welds a single entity from manifold parts. Even so, in its finely textured reading, the Sorrel imbues the score with the kind of purposeful direction that in the Second Quartet, no less scrupulously played, is the very fibre of the music.

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The novelty is the F major Quartet, written three years before the D major. Dvorák’s American Quartet inflects its first movement; the finale passes fleetingly, while the scherzo bristles with ostinati. The most interesting movement, the second, is also the shortest. Its opening chords allude to the Debussy String Quartet. Here as elsewhere, the sense of originality is chiefly found in the range of reference, which in itself is astounding for a 15-year-old composer. Nicholas Williams